Thursday, September 6, 2012

Darkthrone - A Night of Unholy Black Metal (1996)

For a band with the longevity of Darkthrone, and such ties to the '80s, it would only be appropriate that their material has been the subject of various bootlegs over the years. As is the case with their countrymen, Mayhem, just about any random recording done by Darkthrone has been subsequently bootlegged a dozen or so times. This particular bootleg, A Night of Unholy Black Metal, seems to have turned up in the mid-to-late '90s, with dates ranging from late 1996 to some point in 1998. Whatever the case may be, it appears to have emerged during the band's downtime, between Total Death and Ravishing Grimness. This is an interesting collection, as it features material from a few distinct periods in the band's history.

The first chapter consists of five songs that were taken from a live performance from 6 April 1996, in Oslo, Norway. This was from a gig that also featured Dissection and Satyricon, with Satyr actually playing bass for Darkthrone. It would seem that, from early on, he was playing a supporting role for the band. For such a brief set, the band still managed to cover most of their albums, though they played nothing from Panzerfaust. Maybe, they were eager to play something newer, which is why they included "Blackwinged", but "Quintessence" would have been a better choice. Nocturno Culto and Fenriz were certainly more into the dark atmosphere of their Black Metal days, as the set begins with the chiming of a funeral bell and video of the gig shows that they had torches on the stage. This may have been a few years too late to possess the same cult feeling of the old Mayhem shows with Dead, but the atmosphere is similar. The sound quality is not the greatest, with some hissing and a lack of clarity, but it suits the music in a way. The bass is surely loud enough, sometimes coming through a little too well. For anyone that is familiar with these songs, this recording is not difficult to follow, at all. One might even say that "Under A Funeral Moon" and "Transilvanian Hunger" are not too far below the studio versions, in terms of quality, though that would probably be going too far. "Blackwinged" is a little hard to get into, as the bass blocks out the guitar, and you can even hear a couple guys in the crowd talking, fairly clearly. All in all, the set does well to capture the old Black Metal feeling. A shame that is was so short.

The next part features a live recording taken from a gig in Finland, back in 1991. The sound is pretty terrible, with the drums overpowering the rest and being a bit of a pain on the ear. The songs are hardly formed, as well, making the show feel kind of awkward. Apparently, Nocturno Culto wasn't feeling too well, so the songs practically became instrumentals, though one has to wonder how fully developed they were anyway. "Paragon Belial" and "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" were far from the versions that would appear on A Blaze in the Northern Sky, with more of a Death/Doom feeling, as a matter of fact. The other two songs were works in progress for the then-upcoming Goatlord record. They sound rather directionless, with far too much activity behind the drum kit and not enough atmosphere. The bad recording doesn't help matters, either. The most interesting thing about this part of the collection is likely Fenriz's stage banter.

The final chapter of A Night of Unholy Black Metal actually takes the listener back to the sort of atmosphere that was present at the beginning, with a handful of rehearsal tracks from 1992. Nocturno Culto has made no secret that this period of the band's existence holds special memories for him and has often cited Darkthrone's time as a three-piece as passing far too quickly. Back then, they were uninterested in playing live and even recording albums was less important than gathering and rehearsing the material, over and over, in what amounted to primitive Black Metal rituals. The sound quality is not the best, but it is not terribly inferior to the studio versions of these songs as heard on Under A Funeral Moon. The playing is very tight and one can tell that these guys knew the songs well, inside and out. The vocals are difficult to hear, at times, but this is remedied for the last two songs, as they are instrumentals. While not sounding as good as the band's third full-length, the same morbid atmosphere is definitely present.

A Night of Unholy Black Metal is certainly worth getting, if you ever run across it. While the tracks from the '91 gig are rather useless, the '96 Oslo show and the '92 rehearsal are rather meaningful pieces of Darkthrone's history and of the early Norwegian Black Metal scene, itself. Though this style and atmosphere is still seen as being very important to Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, they have long since moved on, making albums like this all the more valuable to those that have an appreciation for this music.